Research Perspective and Comments & Analysis
Fresh Fruit Is The Apple Of The Snack Consumer's Eye
By Kathy Ross, Category Specialist, NPD Group
Fresh fruit is not only the top snack food consumed in America, it is also one of the fastest growing, according to new snacking research from The NPD Group. NPD’s recently released Snacking in America, which examines long-term attitudes and behaviors about snacking as well as snack selection drivers, reports that annual eatings per capita of fresh fruit as a snack have increased by six percentage points since 2003. Growing concerns about health and eating right are certainly contributors to the increasing popularity of fruit as a snack, but NPD’s research shows that fruit has been the top snack choice in this country for the past decade.
One of the reasons that fruit holds the top snack position is that it’s eaten throughout the day, resulting in its inclusion in more snack occasions than other snack foods. Over a two-year period ending March, 2012, fruit was consumed as a snack in nine more snack occasions than chocolate, the next top snack food, and 25 more occasions than potato chips, the third most popular snack food.
Availability is certainly another reason why fruit leads the pack in snacks. Snack foods are never too far away from us, and this is especially true for fresh fruit. Eighty-five percent of households currently have fresh fruit on hand, which compares to 51 percent of households that have cookies available, according to NPD’s most recent Kitchen Audit, a survey conducted to determine what food ingredients, appliances and utensils U.S. households have on hand. Fruit is, however, outranked by salty snacks, which are currently on hand in 91 percent of U.S. households. Over half of American pantries currently have on hand just about every top snack food eaten in-home today. This is especially true in households with children.
Having fruit on hand makes sense, as it appears to be a favorite snack among all ages. Consumers 65 and older eat the most fruit, followed by children under 12. Teens, ages 13 to 17, eat the least amount of fruit, but their consumption increases as they get older. Females eat more fresh fruit than males, but not that much more. Another aspect of the fruit consumer, other than their age, is the type of snackers they are. Healthier snack consumers snack more often between meals and eat a wider variety of healthy snacks, and fruit is the top go-to snack for these consumers.
Its broad appeal among consumers of every age and gender would account for fruit as a planned, rather than impulse, snack purchase. Impulse purchasing, those snacks purchased within 30 minutes of consumption, is strongest among ready-to-eat sweet baked goods, candy, and traditional salty snacks, whereas the majority of fruit purchases are planned more than one day in advance of eating.
Although fruit is the top snack overall, its popularity wanes a bit as the day progresses. Fresh fruit holds a strong lead as a morning snack, ties as the top afternoon snack, and drops to fifth place as a late night snack when indulgent, sweet-and-salty snacks grab more attention from snackers. Consumers are motivated by different needs for snacks as the day progresses. Portability, availability, and health seem to drive morning snack selections; afternoon choices look to be more satiating, while snack-oriented foods consumed in the evening are more about flavor and taste sensations.
In addition to time-of-day, snack food selections are often based on the type of activity the consumer is engaged in at the time of the snack occasion. The portability of candy, baked goods, and bars drive consumption of these items when consumers are on the go, and may contribute to their likelihood of being consumed in a car. Fresh fruit is a more popular snack choice for leisure and meal-related activities than work/school, social, or on-the-go activities.
Taking the who, what, when, and where of fresh fruit consumption into account, the point to be made is that fresh fruit is a top-of-mind snack with most consumers. Since 2002, the average American is consuming an additional 15 snack meals per year, with most of the snacking growth occurring in the morning, when fruit is the No. 1 snack choice.
Among the opportunities this trend presents to producers and produce retailers are to market and merchandise around the morning snack occasions, promote fruit for the activities during which it is most likely to be eaten, and package and promote it for on-the-go activities when it’s least likely to be consumed.
Bottom line: fresh fruit is a growing snack food that is ripe for the picking.
Time For Rest Of The Industry To Catch Convenience-Fruit Craze
It is odd. We have no evidence that overall produce consumption is expanding, yet the reputable folks over at the NPD group show that fruit is a fast growing snack. Why might this be so?
One possibility is that this is a testament to the fresh-cut fruit industry. From apple slices to fruit cups that fit in car cup-holders, there has been an explosion in convenient ways to eat fresh fruit. Some items, such as fresh pineapple or fresh watermelon, which once were very difficult for consumers to cut, are now available most conveniently.
Another driver may be expanded distribution. Today, from the drive-through at McDonald’s to many drug stores, vending machines and convenience stores, fresh fruit, whether a simple display of apples, bananas, oranges and pears or a full fresh-cut offering, are quite common. In fact, we covered this topic in our October cover story, Produce Finds A Home In Non-Traditional Outlets.
In addition, varieties have changed. More fruit is seedless and some, such as easy-peeling citrus, is easier to eat in the car or at one’s desk. New varieties have made a selection of tastier items available. This is clearly true in apples and melons. Grape varieties have also expanded enormously.
What’s more, counter-seasonal and tropical growing opportunities have made most fruits available year-round.
There are also lots more programs at schools and offices to give out free fresh fruit. In the office of Produce Business, we receive two fresh fruit deliveries each week, which we share with all associates at no cost.
Whatever the cause, the fruit industry is intersecting profitably with a growing trend toward snacking and that is for the good.
Of course, since overall consumption of produce is flat, the rise in fruit and vegetable consumption for snacks may mean a decline in fruit consumption at other times or a decline in vegetable consumption.
This may point to an enormous difficulty in increasing overall produce consumption — for every action there is a reaction. If we give away fruit at the office, it seems as if this would increase produce consumption. It well may, but quite possibly by less than hoped. After all, someone who always has a banana after work might have a cookie if he already had two bananas in the office that day.
Where to go from here? Well, one lesson is that snack-eating occasions are rising; this might link in to a grazing trend and imply less consumption at the tradition breakfast, lunch and dinner. This poses particular challenges to vegetables as they are so often consumed as side dishes.
One wonders if producers of microwave-steamer type packs shouldn’t focus on producing single-serve snack packs perfect to microwave at the office or home for quick snack. If a desire to eat healthy and to fight obesity is part of what is driving the increased consumption of fruit at snack occasions, an increased availability of tasty vegetable snack items might be well received.
Merchandising may have to change — and substantially. Right now, drugstores sell fresh-cut fruit, maybe some celery and carrot sticks, sandwiches, pudding, etc., all things ready to eat. Maybe someone could design a merchandising display with an integrated steamer or microwave appliance so that vegetable snack packs could be heated in-store ready to slip in a cup- holder and snack on the way to work or school. Maybe we can get cars to come with little microwave ovens?
Distribution would be another challenge. Most gas station convenience stores have fresh-cut fruit of various sorts, and many have whole fruits in at least a limited assortment. There may be some salads. But salad greens aside, there isn’t a fresh vegetable to be seen.
Another issue for both fruits and vegetables is how to capture more late-night snacking. Here, the answer to a consumer yearning for “flavor and taste sensations” may be more tie-ins with other popular snack items. Chocolate, caramel, cheese, whipped cream, olive oil, bacon… all these and more can take fresh produce and ramp it up a notch. At Kings Super Markets, headquartered in Parsippany, NJ, you never see a produce department without at least three different specialty cheeses being cross-merchandised amidst the produce.
To sell more produce, we need to meet consumer needs at different day-parts and with different accompaniments. Sometimes you feel like having some berries and sometimes you want them with a great cheese, and sometimes with whipped cream and sometimes dipped in chocolate. Maybe the key to increasing consumption is offering items in variations — so they are perfect for every eating occasion.